Not taking things personally is a lesson I learned from my upbringing that I am very grateful for in my adulthood. Growing up with four siblings also helped. Siblings are really your first friends and with siblings like mine who were pretty merciless with truth-telling, it helped a lot. Additionally, my parents and particularly my dad always reiterated that most people you encounter will ultimately have little significance in your life. He encouraged us to be attentive to whose opinions and advice we considered, and to keep that number small.
Still, the unavoidable nature of our human experience is that we will feel things, even when we don’t want to. Even when we’ve committed ourselves to being cold and numb to the world, it involved great effort to not care what people think, and to not take what they say and do personally. Sometimes people seek to hurt us and sometimes even without intending it, they hurt us anyway. It is difficult not to characterize anything we disagree with, any perceivably negative word or unkind action as a personal attack on who we are. Not taking things personally is difficult. Even in an environment that was conducive to learning this valuable trait, I wrestle with it daily.
So how does one go about it? How does one attempt to remove notions of a personal attack when that is what one perceives? In the first place I think we all need to realize how inconsequential most of us are to each other. It’s not a pessimistic outlook; it is simply a mere fact of life. You will likely only have a relatively small amount of people who will truly affect how you think , feel, and construct your reality. Knowing that few people really matter admittedly can be discouraging but it can also be empowering because when you deem people irrelevant, their opinions are also irrelevant.
Introspection and giving yourself adequate time to get know yourself is also key to not taking things personally. A mentor of mine says, “You have to cut out the noise because the world is full of a lot of it.” I think when you’re introspective, you know your strengths and weaknesses, you know the things that you need to change and the things that you do well. When you know yourself better than anyone, you have clarity about whether the statements people make are honestly about you or are really, just about them. In the wisdom of introspection, you’ll find that what most people say reveal who they are, not who they think others are.
Not takings personally also means people’s compliments about you are taken with a grain of salt. It is good and wonderful to be acknowledged in a positive way and it boots our self-esteem. But a self-esteem that is based on how others see you and not how you see yourself is one that is fickle and frail. You have to learn to be your biggest champion but also your harshest critic so that you see yourself as you really are. People can be immensely kind and they can also be nearly diabolical. But when you don’t take many things personally, the context of the situation or the people you meet, do not matter much. Your sense of self comes from within and your self-worth comes from within. When you know this, you’ll find that most things are not worth taking personally. You’ll find that even the things that are, are usually still best laughed-off.